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40 Down, 4 Million to Go

“The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest field. (Luke 10:2)

In a small chapel, in a tiny village, on a remote island, a handful of friars are laboring in God’s fields.

The Dominican friars of St. Joseph’s Church in Greenwich Village on Manhattan Island are on a mission.

They won’t be satisfied until everyone in New York City is converted to Christ and His One, True, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

Apparently, as Lent is running down and we quickly approach Easter, the parish’s RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) program, the program by which non-Catholic adults learn more about the Church, has forty…count them, FORTY…adult converts to the Church.

My first reaction was, “Did you say 4 or 40?”

When the pastor, Fr. James Cuddy, OP corrected me, my second reaction was, “Holy Mackerel!”

At this rate, it won’t take long for the friars to convert all of New York City. As it is, the City is 51% Catholic already, according to the Archdiocese, as a result of immigration and the combined efforts of other priests, religious and lay catechists throughout the City in the last 392 years since its founding.

When I recovered at the surprising revelation, I asked the good father, as to what he owed this bumper crop of catechumens and confirmandi.

“We’re feeding souls and minds here. Ours is a generation looking for answers and not just the pat, ‘Because-I-say-so,’ response to important catechetical and existential questions,” said the friar, making an oblique reference to perhaps an older style of catechesis.

“The truth, presented lovingly, is something you can come to expect from a Dominican,” said Fr. Cuddy. “People are coming from all kinds of different places and the idea is to not beat people into intellectual submission. It’s not a question of trying to win an argument but rather to share that knowledge and love of Christ which we have come to experience in our own lives.”

“A lot of people knock Thomism, calling it an arid, intellectual system,” explained Fr. Cuddy. “But, modern people want good, thorough, well-though out answers that satisfy their curiosity and have a transformative effect on their relationship with Christ.”

“We Dominicans have a deep, rich intellectual tradition but you can’t just feed the mind,” said Fr. Cuddy.

“A friar is supposed to try to listen to what people are saying and demonstrate that love that is Christ.”

“We strive to hear them, love them, share with them that which we’ve come to know and love and to embrace about our relationship with Christ that is peculiar to the Church,” the friar explained.

After twenty minutes of speaking with Fr. Cuddy, I would have converted to Catholicism also. Thankfully, a Franciscan friar took care of that many years ago.

Fr. Cuddy recounted the pious tale of Dominic and the Innkeeper to make his point about his community’s intellectual tradition.

St. Dominic de Guzman was born in Caleruegain the Kingdom of Castile, in AD 1170. He later studied in Palencia, and became a canon at the Cathedral of Osma. In AD 1203, the friar was on a diplomatic trip to the Albi region of southern France where he encountered the Albigensians, also known as the Cathari—a heresy that threatened to destroy all of Europe and, indeed, Christianity. They were 13th century New Age hippies…but a great deal more violent. There, Dominic met an unnamed Albigensian innkeeper with whom he stayed awake all night arguing. After a long night of intense discussion, Christ’s light dawned upon the heretic and he converted to the Church.

And thus began the intellectual tradition of the Order of Preachers. Dominic wanted his friars and, eventually, his nuns and lay associates, to be well schooled in theology and philosophy so that they might respond intelligently to all criticism and questions about the Faith. Thus, it can be said that St. Dominic sacramentalized the intellect, cognition, logic and rational discourse transforming them into tools and avenues by which his disciples might reach the souls of the unloving, uninitiated and unchurched.

Admittedly, as pastor, Fr. Cuddy isn’t directly responsible for the tidal wave of faith at St. Joseph’s as he only became pastor in January of this year. However, he’s directly involved in teaching classes every now and again.

When pressed, Fr. Cuddy attributes the success of the RCIA program to, well, Fr. Cuddy.

The pastor clearly doesn’t laud himself as that would be a great affront to his priestly humility. Rather, Fr. James Cuddy refers to his parochial vicar, Fr. Cajetan Cuddy.

(Yes…two Fr. Cuddys in the same parish at the same time. It sounds like the Dominican provincial superior wanted to stage a commedia dell’arte or perhaps a slamming-door farce by assigning two Fr. Cuddys to the same rectory contemporaneously. Frankly, it’s a play that writes itself, but that’s the topic for a different day.)

Forty participants, catechumens and confirmandi, is an outrageous success story. One that defies normal sociological or anthropological explanation though some theories are floated around the parish watercooler.

“Greenwich Village, these days is heavily saturated with young adults,” says Fr. Cajetan Cuddy, the RCIA program director. “We have an active parish with good preaching,” he explained referring to the Dominicans’ wheelhouse.

“We stress preaching about the sacraments,” the friar explained. “How the sacraments have a real effect in our lives. They are more than symbols and signs. They cause grace in human lives.”

But the sheer number of participants in St Joseph’s RCIA program is mindboggling and invites the question: “What the heck is going on there?!”

“I attribute it to word of mouth,” explained Fr. Cuddy. “We get a lot of people in the neighborhood who tell their friends about us. That, and we spend time a great deal of time talking about controversial issues. We’re offering a mind-changing, learning experience here in our program.”

“In fact,” Fr. Cuddy continued. “A married couple who are a part of our program, told me that they had never heard of the theological and spiritual reasons behind many of the doctrines espoused by the Church. They told me they enjoyed being with us because they hadn’t ever heard them explained in a clear and open way.”

The spiritual thirst and sacramental hunger of the world is readily apparent these days, and the good friars of St. Joseph’s in Greenwich Village are in the thick of it all.

Let’s keep the friars and their ministries in our prayers. Let’s pray for their fidelity and perseverance and for the continual growth in faith of their catechumens and confirmandi.

And next time you’re in the Village, feel free to drop by for Mass at St. Joseph’s…perhaps with your best atheist friend. He might find it irresistible.


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